EXCLUSIVE: American Idol was one of the first major entertainment formats to battle through the COVID-19 production shutdown to finish its last season with a series of episodes filmed remotely.
The talent competition is now heading into production on its fourth season for ABC and is back at its usual scale, albeit safely.
Deadline understands that filming begins today with the judge’s auditions episodes, filmed at a number of locations across California. While in previous seasons, the show would be filmed across the country – last year for instance, it filmed in locations including in Georgia and Wisconsin – this year it is staying slightly closer to home as a result of the pandemic.
Judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry, who gave birth in August, are back with host Ryan Seacrest. However, instead of all sitting at the same table, the trio will have separate tables and there will be zoning in place for interacting with others.
Contestants will be traveling to each of the auditions from all over the country, but the team, led by showrunner and FremantleMedia North America’s President of Entertainment Programming Trish Kinane, have put in place rigorous health and safety protocols to ensure that the set is as safe as possible.
Cast and crew are all being tested in accordance with local, state, union and industry guidelines from organizations including the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), federal, state, local government and health agencies and medical professionals. There will also be social distancing on set and cast and crew will be required to wear masks when not on camera.
Fremantle has experience of these health and safety protocols, having recently safely produced shows such as NBC’s America’s Got Talent and ABC’s reboot of Supermarket Sweep, while its long-running game show The Price Is Right is also back in the studio today.
The RTL-backed company also held its first round of auditions Idol Across America – virtually using custom-built Zoom technology. Eschewing a bus tour across the country, it ran remote auditions across all 50 states and DC in August and September.
Earlier this year, the show returned to production at the end of April to film the final four episodes of season three. These episodes performed well – the first episode back topped Sunday’s primetime ratings to deliver a 1.0 in the adults 18-49 demographic and 6.04 million viewers and the two-hour finale held steady in the adults 18-49 demographic with a 1.0 rating and was up to 7.27 million viewers. It was also one of the most popular show according to social media metrics.
However, the company is keen to ensure that this season of American Idol returns to the scale that viewers remember.
American Idol is produced by Fremantle and Industrial Media’s 19 Entertainment. Executive producers include Fremantle’s Trish Kinane, Jennifer Mullin and Megan Wolflick, with Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman serving as executive producers for 19 Entertainment.